Villages MSA among fastest growing in U.S.

A large crowd gathers in February for the annual Strawberry Festival at Brownwood Paddock Square.

The Villages is still one of the Top 10 fastest-growing communities in the country, according to U.S. Census data released today.

Population in The Villages metropolitan statistical area, which includes all of Sumter County but not villages in Lake and Marion counties, grew by 2.5 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the new Census data.

That earned The Villages the 10th spot on the annual list of fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country.

“We’re thrilled to have this kind of growth,” said Sumter County Commission Chairman Al Butler. “Anywhere in the U.S. would be kind of jealous of that growth. It’s done some wonderful things to help us build a stronger community.”

The population growth from 2016 to 2017 tracked by the Census does indicate a slowdown from previous years. The Villages MSA previously ranked No. 1 for population growth four years in a row, averaging around 4 percent growth each year.

This year, The Villages is ranked as the second-fastest growing MSA in the state behind the Lakeland-Winter Haven area, which grew by 2.9 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Sumter County Administrator Bradley Arnold said that change could be due to a transition between The Villages building new homes in the Village of Fenney and people actually moving in. Once those new residents are counted in the coming years, Arnold said he anticipates The Villages jumping back up toward No. 1.

“I think a lot of people are surprised at how quickly the Village of Fenney has developed and how quickly the homes have moved from new constructed home to occupied homes, which ups the population,” Arnold said.

Wildwood City Commissioner Joe Elliott was one of the first residents to move into the Village of Fenney last year.

Being on the ground in The Villages, he said he’s seen no signs of development slowing down. He’s watched his own neighborhood grow from dozens of residents to going on 1,000.

And, he said, there have been major commercial developments along State Road 44 in the Wildwood area of The Villages, from Lake Deaton Plaza to the area surrounding Brownwood Paddock Square.

“Either we’re growing or we’re working like heck for growth that’s anticipated to come in the future,” Elliott said.

According to The Villages Developer, from December 2016 to December 2017 the population in The Villages in Sumter, Marion and Lake counties overall grew by 3.7 percent.

Over the past decade, annual growth like that has helped the area’s population skyrocket. From 2010 to 2017, according to Census data, The Villages MSA population has grown by nearly a third from 94,279 to 125,165.

“Sumter is really one of the fastest-growing counties in the country if you look at it since 2010,” said Stefan Rayer, population program director at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.

Rayer said the dip in population growth from 2016 to 2017 was a result of a decrease in net domestic migration. That means, he said, this year Sumter County saw fewer residents moving in than in previous years.

That paired with the natural trend of a higher number of deaths than births in the county, Rayer said, contributed to the lower level of population growth.

Rayer also said it’s normal for year-to-year population estimates to fluctuate.

“Even if there is high growth there’s going to be some years that are lower than others,” Rayer said. “It depends on whether those changes prove to be a break in the pattern or a short-term breather.”

In the case of The Villages, with plenty of growth still on the horizon, Rayer said that number is likely to rebound when new construction comes online.

Sarah Wilson is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5401, or sarah.wilson@thevillagesmedia.com.